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Oliver council questions national park benefits
Members of Oliver council are not convinced that a national park in the South Okanagan will reap the benefits being touted.
A recent presentation by Jim Wyse of the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network garnered a lukewarm response.
“It (a national park) will shut out a lot of people from our hills. We have to think about these people,” said water councillor Rick Machial.
He pointed out that a lot of visitors come to the South Okanagan to hunt and they bring a lot of dollars with them.
Machial said anyone can visit the grasslands now, but if a park is established, a lot of people will be shut out.
He noted if hunting is prohibited, the South Okanagan will see the deer population explode, resulting in a significant impact on the agricultural industry.
“We will have tremendous damage,” he said.
But Wyse pointed to the economic impact that a national park would bring to the area.
He cited a certifiable study on the economic impact of national parks, which suggests that each national park in B.C. creates an average of 772 jobs (based on the study years 2008/09).
The study also states that the average national park in B.C. can generate about $4.4 million in taxes and $57.5 million in annual visitor spending.
“The economic impacts are much too important to ignore,” Wyse said.
He noted this cash injection would go a long way to help Oliver’s Main Street, which he likened to a hockey player’s teeth with a lot of gaps.
“The town is dying,” said Wyse.
Mayor Ron Hovanes acknowledged that times are tough and some businesses are hurting, but he pointed to Oliver’s diverse economy.
Councillor Maureen Doerr said the empty lots Wyse referred to were created by businesses moving to other locations, not closing down.
Councillor Dave Mattes said he read the Outspan study that Wyse quoted and was not convinced by the numbers.
“I have a problem with averages.”
Mattes doubted that a grassland park in the South Okanagan would generate 772 jobs.
He also said the provincial government spends more money on provincial parks than the federal government does on national parks. So we might be better off having a provincial park, he stated.
Doerr said the federal government is spending $29 million less on national parks and laying off 600 staff members.
The councillor also admitted that she is a rancher’s daughter and that ranchers are “hugely against” the national park concept.
However, Wyse said the largest rancher (Ace Elkink) who owns 80 per cent of the grasslands in the proposed park boundaries is strongly in favour of the concept.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger said a number of people feel they have not had sufficient input on the proposal.
Fellow councillor Jack Bennest said he is in favour of the province getting back to the discussion table.
He said Parks Canada should have started by simply asking people what they thought of the proposal.
Hovanes admitted this is a very divisive issue, which may require a referendum to decide.
Council did not entertain Wyse’s request to support the re-engagement of talks.
But the regional district previously passed a motion to support continued discussions.
This put chairman Mark Pendergraft “between a rock and a hard place” because his family members are ranchers west of Osoyoos.
The rural Osoyoos director acknowledges Parks Canada’s assertion that ranching and cattle grazing will be permitted in the park, but for how long?
“The devil is in the details,” said Pendergraft, who noted it’s hard to build a business plan when there is no guarantee that your industry will continue to operate from year to year.
Pendergraft said there are businesses other than ranching and helicopters that will be impacted by the park. For example, any guide outfitter in the area will be shut down, he said.
Will this area be developed if a national park is not established? Pendergraft has his doubts.
“[These grasslands] are not highly desirable for development . . . it’s a long way from power.”
Pendergraft said a referendum concerns him because of all the misinformation out there and the difficulty with framing the right question.
The director supports the concept of a national park, but not the location. He favours the protection of wildlife, but said the majority of red-listed species are located in the valley bottom, not in the hilly grasslands.
Town of Osoyoos council have been vocal in their support for a national park in the South Okanagan and have called on the province to resume talks on more than one occasion.
Special to the Times